Dominic Cummings ‘Barnard Castle’ jokes aside, Chillingham Castle is a sight for sore eyes for families like ours.
After two housebound staycations, I had promised C that as soon as lockdown ended, we’d head to the Northumberland coast for an adventure.
While some castles were closed and other places were booked up online, it wasn’t easy to find somewhere that would live up to Cyrus’s expectations.
Lovely day out
We had initially visited Dunstanburgh Castle, a 40-minute drive from our home in Newcastle. While it was a lovely day out for me, Cyrus was not as impressed. After his 1.5 mile walk through in his words ‘a lot of sheep poo’, he found a ‘broken’ castle and not a fairytale one.
Chillingham Castle is off the beaten track and we had to cross a little ford flowing with water to get there. Of course, there were squeals of excitement from little C as we did. Mummy meanwhile was more worried about what daddy would say if the car got stuck halfway across it.
It’s not the kind of route along narrow winding country lanes I’d like to take in the dark – particularly since the castle is one of Britain’s most haunted historic places.
Chillingham is a real-life historic castle that is occupied by Sir Humphrey Wakefield and his family. On arrival, you head along a tree-lined driveway and you’d be mistaken for thinking it’s a fortress with its backdrop.
Immerse yourself in history
The 12th Century stronghold became a castle in 1344 and it has remained in the same family ever since. Battled over and besieged, it is full of intrigue. The fact that it has remained largely unchanged adds to its character. Every nook, cranny and spiral staircase has a story to tell.
You can immerse yourself in the past as soon as you walk through the gates and better still – there are no queues! Sir Humphrey has also reduced the admission price for visitors because part of the castle is out of bounds. This is a nice touch for families like ours trying to cut costs during a difficult period.
We only had to pay £8 for one adult ticket as Cyrus went free and the guy in the ticket office / gift shop couldn’t have been more helpful. I hadn’t been to Chillingham for around 15 years, so he was happy to explain the best route around the castle and places of interest along the way.
The friendly and courteous staff, as well as the castle’s owners are more than willing to go the extra mile to help you out with anything you need at Chillingham.
It’s easy to spend a full day touring the castle and its grounds and unlike Dunstanburgh, there’s no ‘rigid’ one-way system in place. Visitors are free to walk around the site, so long as they maintain social distancing. You can even stay overnight at the castle again in one of the apartments, which we must do one day.
The castle certainly kept Cyrus absorbed for some time before I let him loose in the beautiful grounds. The manicured gardens are simply stunning and act as the perfect maze for under-fives.
The castle is by no means polished like some of Northumberland’s other historic establishments. It’s old, dusty, a bit shabby in places, but that gives it its character and what an old castle should be like. It’s not Disney!
Use your imagination
It’s easy for little ones to imagine firing their bows and arrows out of the narrow slit windows, while older kids may have the stomach for the castle’s torture chamber and dungeon. Little C was not put off going inside, however he didn’t stay there for long! We were advised that it can be quite frightening for young children and the steps in the dungeon are a little uneven, so you do need to take care.
The beauty of Chillingham Castle is that it has survived through the ages and it has plenty of hidden treasures from times gone by to share with visitors. There are some funny little touches – watch out for the crystal skull behind bars, Easter Island figurines and pictures with eyes that feel like they follow you around a room. We really loved our visit and will be back soon, hopefully next time with daddy in tow too.